Max Verstappen was declared Formula One world champion Sunday after winning a dramatic rain-shortened Japanese Grand Prix. Red Bull’s Verstappen crossed the line first and he was then awarded the title when second-place finisher Charles Leclerc was given a five-second penalty, dropping him to third. The result gave Verstappen an unassailable 113-point lead in the championship, making him only the third driver after Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel to clinch the title with four races to spare.
Ferrari’s Leclerc finished the race second in front of Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, but he was hit with a penalty after squeezing Perez wide and leaving the track in a late surge for the line.
Verstappen was informed he had retained his title midway through the post-race TV interview, and even the driver himself was not sure if he had sealed the deal.
“It’s a crazy feeling of course as I didn’t expect it when I crossed the line,” said a shell-shocked Verstappen.
“Was it going to be half points? I didn’t know how many points I was going to get. I was happy with the race we had.”
The race got off to a chaotic start in heavy rain, with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Williams’ Alex Albon exiting on the first lap prompting a safety care.
A red flag soon followed and forced the drivers to wait for more than an hour before the action restarted, again under a safety car.
Verstappen resumed with a lead over Leclerc and Perez, and extended it as conditions gradually improved.
Verstappen has won 12 of 18 races in 2022 and thanked his team for an “incredible” year.
“The first (championship) is a little more emotional, the second one is beautiful,” he said.
“It’s been a special year, and you need to remind yourself as these kind of years you don’t have very often.”
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said Verstappen had “grown” as a driver.
“Carrying that number one this year, he’s done it with a lot of pride,” he said.
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